Ever since the mid-80’s, the gap inside death metal has been growing; early death metal bands like Possessed and Death still had many obvious thrash metal traits in their sound, but it was apparent that a new genre was developing. Just a few years later, Cannibal Corpse, Massacre, Immolation, and many others pushed the envelope even further, taking cues from Possessed and Death both lyrically and sonically. By the time the 90s rolled around, it was pretty easy to tell the death bands apart from the thrash bands, but the crossover between the genre hasn’t ever completely gone away.
Shards Of Humanity are a death/thrash band from Memphis, Tennessee that are an excellent example of a band blurring the line between death and thrash. Fractured Frequencies is the band’s first full-length album, which marks both the second release overall, and the first as a three-piece, having added a second guitarist to the line-up. Fractured Frequencies has everything you’d want in a modern death/thrash hybrid album: harsh vocals, drums that pound the listener senseless, and a torrential downpour of riff after riff, and then some more riffs for good measure. That’s the name of the game here, “the power of the riff,” and Shards Of Humanity are absolutely bursting at the seams with them. There’s hardly room to catch your breath between songs, the onslaught is relentless, and you almost get the feeling that listening to the album is a lot like seeing the band live; no fanfare, no sound clips, no banter, just in your face metal, all the time.
The approach Shards Of Humanity take to the death/thrash sound is pretty similar to other like-minded bands that paved the way, namely Sadus, Pestilence, and the almighty Death. “Aphoticism” starts out with one of the catchiest/heaviest thrash riffs in recent memory, and vocalist/lead guitarist Todd Cochran’s scorching vocals up the ante on aggression. Vocally, Todd sticks to a mid-range howl that is very similar in tone and quality to those of the legendary Chuck Schuldiner, and truly compliment the frantic nature of the music. “Species Ensnared” is another stand-out track that blasts out of the gates with a fast-paced, highly technical riff that serves to whip the song into a frenzy, before launching into the verse. Also, much like Chuck Schuldiner, Todd plays some pretty intense solos that border on jazzy, like the one about a quarter of the way into “Astral Agony.”
Now, while there are many excellent riffs throughout, not all of them are super exciting, and I found myself wanting to skip through songs entirely. Shards Of Humanity are a talented band, and have moments of absolute greatness, but there are almost TOO many riffs to sift through; one minute you’ll be banging your head, the next you’ll be scratching it. Guys, it’s okay if you don’t record every lick you’ve written for a song, the law of averages says there’s bound to be a few stinkers in every guitarist’s arsenal.
The production is pretty decent, though the guitars might be a little too up front for me. There’s a lot going on with the guitar-work already, but the production hammers you over the head with layers upon layers of guitar, so it all just comes off a little busy sounding. There really isn’t any bass to speak of, but the chugging rhythm guitar provides plenty of low-end, rendering a bassist a bit unnecessary anyway.
Fractured Frequencies is an admirable debut album for an obviously talented band, though there is a little room for improvement. I enjoyed the album, for the most part, but would like to hear just a little more variety on their next effort. However, the good riffs are top-shelf material, the “bad” riffs are a bit more “average,” though admittedly better than many of their contemporaries. If you like Death, Pestilence, or Massacre, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here, and despite the few issues I had with it, I still very much enjoyed the album as well.